**Editor’s Note: We will be featuring some character backstories & recaps from our new Phoenix Dawn Command actual play series over the coming weeks. Be sure to watch the adventure LIVE every Saturday night at 5p PDT/8p EDT on twitch.tv/savingthrowshow!**
by Mac Beauvais
After crushing the orb, Varya was sucked from life and unceremoniously dumped back into hell: the Crucible. The inky blackness held the reverberating chiding echo of her past failures. But there was something new, and somehow familiar.
Varya felt herself moving through the dark, trancelike, pulled by something deep inside. She walked for what seemed like miles to arrive at a rectangular obelisk only slightly taller than herself. The area around it was illuminated by a pale, pulsating glow. Circling it, she came to the front and flinched at movement. The obelisk, it turned out, was a mirror.
She studied her reflection, a creeping fear sinking into her bones. Before her she watched as her form morphed, driving her appearance another step toward bestial. Her eyes flared with yellow fire, her teeth crept further from the gum line, her nose flattened slightly, her shoulders broadened and hunched, and pointed ear tips slid through hair bleaching out to dark silver.
Tangible tendrils of fear slithered from the mirror and wrapped themselves about her, binding to her, becoming her. Then she understood, this was her next stage as a Phoenix. The thing that terrified her could also be her weapon. The very element of fear. She would put it to good use.
With this realization and acceptance of what she must do, the fire that would transport her back to Pyre blazed forth from the mirror. She closed her eyes and stepped in.
Her landing back in Pyre was less gentle than before and the people in the room greeted her with significantly less enthusiasm. She preferred this to the cheers of her first arrival.
She returned to her wing. Eerie was not yet present, but Idalia and Ink were. She gave a studying look at Ink who had not too long ago been inside her head. There was a look in his eyes but whether it was concern or fear, she did not know.
What followed were a few uneventful weeks. Varya took what time should could to seclude herself and reflect on her most recent trip through the Crucible. She wondered how many more deaths before she might become the monster she feared she would. Perhaps even like the Skinchangers despised in the Deep Grimwald.
When Eerie finally arrived back at Pyre the wing was quickly dispatched on another mission. A township had been infected with the Chant, perhaps the most insidious of the Dread’s many forms that caused all who heard it to join in; mindless slaves to the Dread’s bidding. They were further tasked to retrieve a doctor who may hold crucial information for the war.
Their arrival at the town was met with mixed reactions. Some seemed glad for the Phoenixes, some were confused, a few even mad. The local guard quickly ushered them to a secluded place where they could speak.
The militia had already begun preparations of a final option that would obliterate the building that had been infected by the Chant. A building containing whole families, upward of four hundred individuals inside. Worse yet, they planned to use Brass Dragons, a weapon developed for extermination of the Phoenixes now to be turned on their own population.
The wing argued with the guard, in their own ways, to allow them time to stem the threat without the Dragons. Varya in particular fiercely told the captain it was unacceptable that the people tasked with protecting the town do this and that their credibility would be lost among the citizenry if they did.
In the end they bought three hours. Twenty minutes were lost to the rough climb to the building’s roof. When they finally reached it, they were greeted there by a small legion of Chanters, all beyond rescue. The wing fought bravely to take them all down. Varya did not savor the grim task, even as she hurled her attackers off the roof.
When it seemed they had just about won, a Whisperer appeared, volatile and hovering above the ground in the body of a young girl. Together they lay hits on her until Varya could leap through the debris now circling the girl like a planetary movement, snagging her by the ankles and slamming her into the encircling blocks of mortar.
They entered the building, the smell of it all slamming into Varya’s canine-sharp senses. A rancid combination of blood, excrement, and above it all, fear.
Avoiding roving groups of Chanters, they located two survivors whose ears were cleverly blocked up against the Chant. With help from Ink, they were able to tell the wing where to find the doctor.
On their way to the medical ward, another Whisperer tried to halt their progress and a feeling overcame Varya. The Chant had somehow permeated her. Foreign words encroached on her mind, not unlike Ink’s entry into her head. She was able to fight it off, but not before a fragment of the Chant had passed to Ink.
It took some doing but they took down the Whisperer and reached their target in the ward. Varya hung to the back of the group, concerned her appearance might be alarming, especially given the doctor’s familiarity with the Dread, including Skinchangers, but he seemed unconcerned.
The doctor agreed to join the Phoenix’s cause, but only on the condition that they help evacuate the innocent survivors. He also proposed that a counter-Chant might be possible with Idalia’s help.
Idalia was unsure, the potential ramifications of failure chipped at her confidence. While it may have been easier to just knock out the doctor and take him by force as Eerie suggested, Varya remembered why she was sent to the Crucible in the first place. Her death had been the failure of her tribe to look beyond themselves to the outside world. She told Idalia of this and that it was their duty to take the chance and potentially have a new weapon in the war against the Dread.
Everyone bracing for the worst, they could breathe a sigh of relief when a counter-Chant was created, strong enough to shield them for a time so long as they didn’t attack. The wing used this to slip down to the bottom floors where the dense concentration of Chanters and Whisperers attempted to shake down the building thus releasing their disease into the surrounding town.
Working quickly, it was ascertained that the source of the infectious power was a black shard being circled by the Whisperers. To try and buy some time for the team to destroy it, Varya kicked a small cooking fire into the crowd, breaking the shielding of the counter-Chant on herself.
As they fought, Eerie, the quickest among them, was able to weave through and take hold of the shard. But it was strong, so much that the power was felt buzzing through the wing. Together they concentrated their inner sparks, channeling them to Eerie who was able to crush the shard as he himself dissolved to ash as it claimed his life.
The battle was won.
The Phoenixes stayed to help clean up the aftermath, and soon they were joined by a reborn Eerie. It was time for the wing to return to Pyre, the doctor and an engineer who asked to join them in tow. They boarded a boat and set out across the dark waters toward Pyre.